‘Probe has rattled Kerala govt’

VD Satheesan, Leader of the Opposition in Kerala Assembly, is working hard to to revitalise the Congress in the southern state.

‘Probe has rattled Kerala govt’

VD Satheesan, Leader of the Opposition in Kerala Assembly (Photo:SNS)

VD Satheesan, Leader of the Opposition in Kerala Assembly, is working hard to to revitalise the Congress in the southern state. He led the party’s campaign from the front in Thrikkakara and Puthuppally bypolls, and is considered one of the architects of the party’s splendid victory in the polls. Satheesan along with KPCC president K Sudhakaran is also at the forefront of the Congress’ fight against the ‘anti-people’ policies of the LDF government in Kerala and the BJP-led Centre.

The Congress leader talked to Achuthanandan Kuniyil of The Statesman on the SFIO probe against the firm owned by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s daughter, the alleged BJPCPI(M) nexus and the state’s financial crisis, ahead of the crucial Lok Sabha elections. Excerpts

Q: Do you think Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the Left are rattled by the SFIO probe into the dealings of Exalogic Solutions, the firm owned by Veena Vijayan?


A: Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan earlier stated in the state assembly that his hands are clean. He later backtracked and said his daughter had established the firm with the retirement money of his wife. There are no doubts about the fact that the Left dispensation in Kerala today has been shaken with the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) probe into the firm owned by Veena Vijayan.

When the investigation started, the chief minister forced the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) to file a petition in the High Court, and hired an advocate from Delhi by spending Rs 25 lakh on him to fight the case. Besides, he also asked his daughter to file a petition in the Karnataka High Court to stop the investigation against her firm, Exalogic Solutions. It shows the state government is afraid of the SFIO probe. Now, the High Court has dismissed Veena ‘s petition. Unfortunately, eight long months have been given to complete the investigation. The Cochin Minerals and Rutile Ltd (CMRL) paid Rs 1.72 crore to Exalogic Solutions between 2017 and 2020 without getting any service in return. This is a clear case of money laundering and should attract provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) as well as the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Q : You recomments on the CPI(M) justifying Veena Vijayan’s role in the Exalogic Solutions case?

A: The CPI(M) has released a document defending the chief minister’s daughter and criticising the central government for allegedly distorting Exalogic’s bank transactions. However, with the Karnataka High Court dismissing Veena’s petition, the document, released as part of the party’s attempts to arm its cadres with its version of the controversy, has lost its relevance.

It is strange as the party kept mum when similar allegations were leveled against Bineesh Kodiyeri, the son of late CPI(M) leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, two years ago. I do not think that the Left has any document to defend Veena Vijayan. The CPI(M) state secretary, after the High court’s order, said that he won’t interfere in the matter. Now, the party leaders are also keeping mum on the issue.

Q : You have claimed that if the SFIO probe is done properly , the
chief minester will also become an accused in the case?

A: Chief Minister Vijayan will be made an accused if the investigation takes place properly. Veena and her firm got the money from CMRL because she is the daughter of the chief minister. But I am afraid the unholy nexus between the Sangh parivar and the Left will scuttle the investigation. During the Life Mission corruption case, the central agency had not dared to interrogate the Kerala chief minister, who is the chairman of Life Mission. I do not know if this case will also go the same way as the gold smuggling case, Karuvannur bank scam and the Lavlin case.

Q : The Congress has been accused by the Left of adopting soft Hindutva. Your comment?

A: The Congress always follows the policy of secularism. It is about doing justice to all. In the case of the Universal Civil Code and the Palestine issue, the party has taken a secular stance. Q: Do you believe the Congress-led UDF can repeat its 2019 performance in the general election this year? A: Definitely. The United Democratic Front (UDF) will definitely repeat its performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when it won 19 of the state’s 20 seats.

The political climate in Kerala is in our favour. In Kerala, an anti-incumbency factor exists against the state government and the Centre. The Christian community is skeptical of the saffron party over the Centre’s response to Manipur clashes. The Left-led Kerala government has not paid social security pensions for the last six months. There is perceptible anger among the people against the LDF government.

Q: Factionalism is considered a major curse of the Congress in Kerala?

A: The Kerala Congress was riddled with factionalism at one point. But, today we are working as a unified party.

Q: The Congress-led UDF is often criticised by the ruling Left in Kerala for not questioning the Centre over the financial crisis faced by the state. Your comment?

A : The central policies are not the only reason for the financial troubles of Kerala as mismanagement and administrative failures of the ruling Left also contributed to the financial woes. The reduction of the state’s share of central taxes as per the 15th Finance Commission recommendations is one of the major reasons for this situation.

The other reasons include the state government’s mismanagement in tax collection, including from sale of goods. The LDF government has created a narrative blaming the central government for all the financial problems of the state to hide its own mismanagement, extravagance and corruption. The UDF released two white papers on the financial crisis faced by Kerala, one in 2020 and the other in 2023. These had highlighted how the LDF government failed miserably in realisation of taxes in the last five years and caused the exchequer a loss of Rs 70,000 crore.

They had further stated that the huge borrowings availed by the Pinarayi Vijayan government have left the state in a dangerous debt trap. Eighteen UDF MPs, in a memo given to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, opposed the reduction in the state’s share of central taxes as per the 15th Finance Commission recommendations.

Q: It has been reported that the state government cancelled the mining rights to the private firm only after Veena Vijayan’s financial dealings with CMRL came to light, even though the Centre issued orders in 2019 to end private participation in mining of minerals?

A: It only shows that the chief minister had shown undue interest to ensure that the Kerala Rare Earths and Minerals Ltd (KREML), the company promoted by Cochin Minerals and Rutile Ltd, retained the lease permit for mining beach sand minerals.

Q: Do you think it would be difficult for the Left to defend Veena, especially when the Karnataka High Court has given its go-ahead to the SFIO probe?

A: All the mechanisms deployed by the Left to defend her have become obsolete now. The party cadres and workers have begun to see the true colours of the chief minister. The Left parties in Kerala are not Left. They are extreme right. All their legislation is intended to help corporates and the trading community. When a Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) became the chief minister, the state budget presented last week in the Assembly proposed to give permission to open foreign university centres in Kerala. It may be noted that the Polit bureau had earlier opposed the UGC proposal to allow foreign universities to function in India.

Q : Are you of the opinion that Pinarayi Vijayan should resign for a free and fair probe into the Exalogic Solutions row?

A: The chief minister has committed corruption of a huge magnitude by abusing his power. He does not have the right to continue in office. He must resign for a thorough probe in the case.

Q: The CAG report for 2021- 22, which was recently tabled in the Kerala Assembly had also slammed the state government over its off-budget borrowing through the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB)?

A : I was the first person to oppose KIIFB when the KIIFB Bill was introduced in the Kerala Assembly. The three CAG reports consecutively slammed the state government for its off-budget borrowing by the Board. We strongly believe KIIFB’s ways of raising funds are unconstitutional.